The new Ireland: new moral state?
Saturday 22 October, 12.00 – 13.00 , Pit Theatre
In May 2015, Ireland voted by an overwhelming majority to legalise same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the world to do so by popular vote. This decision, hailed as a social revolution, marks an important diminution of the authority of the Catholic Church over private morality. Arguably, it makes the Ireland of 2016 unrecognisable as the country disparaged in living memory as an arch-conservative ‘priest-ridden bog’. The last of the Magdalene laundries closed less than twenty years ago, and their treatment of ‘fallen’ women and girls is universally condemned as cruel and reactionary, demonstrating the speed with which the ’new’ Ireland has established itself. On one reading, Ireland can now be seen as a civil rights beacon for Europe and the world. Many liberal Irishmen and women in the diaspora have expressed their joy and pride at the transformation of the old country. An alternative view suggests that the reality is rather different, and that Ireland is replacing one kind of conservatism with another, with disdain for the church and religion threatening to silence those who are slow to embrace change. Is Ireland becoming the tyranny of a liberal, cultural elite?
Activists continue to campaign to change legislation in areas such as abortion and constitutional provisions they deem sexist, in order to further dismantle traditional Catholic influence. But these battles are proving more difficult to fight. In 2016, almost 500 books and magazines, mainly relating to sex or abortion, are still banned in Ireland, and in 2009 Ireland became one of the minority of countries to introduce a constitutional blasphemy law, yet to be challenged. So is there still life in old, Catholic Ireland yet?
What is happening in Ireland? Are Irish citizens shrugging off centuries of political, religious and moral repression, so they can live their lives without the baneful influence of the Catholic Church? Or is Ireland merely following the stampede to a superficial political correctness that offers new freedoms to a few while denying old freedoms to many, or even leaving the real Ireland unchanged? Does Ireland stand as an example to others, or as a warning?